“It’s bad for the brand, it’s bad for the sport, it’s bad for both fight camps. I don’t know how anyone can come out looking good from this.” Those were the words of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White following the chaotic scenes in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on the night of Saturday, 6 October.
‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor made his long-awaited return to the octagon for the first time since defeating Eddie Alvarez by knock-out to win the 155lb belt. During his Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) hiatus, McGregor became one of the highest paid athletes in history following his 10th round loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr in the ‘biggest boxing match in history’.
He made the decision to return to the UFC in August to reclaim his Lightweight Championship, which he was stripped of due to inactivity in April, as he claimed he had never been beaten for the belt.
The man he would take on was the current unbeaten champion, Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov from Dagestan, Russia. In his previous 26 professional fights, he boasted an incredible 100 per cent win record, with eight victories by knockout and nine by submission.
McGregor started the pre-match mind games long before the two men even stepped into the octagon. Two days before their fight, he showed up over 30 minutes late for their press conference. Khabib had sensed the disrespect from his opponent and left after only 15 minutes of questions from the media.
However, he remained resolute in his ability to stretch his winning run to 27 fights, stating: “He has to kill me to stop me.” When McGregor eventually showed up, blaming “Vegas traffic” for his lateness, he would go on to label Nurmagomedov’s manager a “terrorist” and even found time to promote his own branded whiskey during his trademarked trash talking.
Tensions had been running high between the two camps for the past few months, with McGregor reportedly making comments regarding Khabib’s accent and religious views. After hearing of Khabib allegedly harassing one of McGregor’s friends and training partners, Artem Lobov, at a New York hotel, Conor and his team attacked Nurmagomedov’s team bus sparking mass outrage and headlines across the sporting world.
Unsurprisingly, Khabib stated before the fight that win, lose or draw he would not shake McGregor’s hand, saying that their fight was now ‘personal’.
When the main event of UFC 229 finally got underway, Khabib let his work in the octagon do his talking. He largely dominated his Irish opponent for the opening three rounds using his wrestling skills to take McGregor to the ground and wear him out. Despite some solid strikes from McGregor, Khabib locked him in a rear naked choke in the fourth round, leaving Conor no choice but to submit for only the second time in his UFC career.
Unfortunately, the action did not stay inside the octagon. Almost immediately following the fight, Khabib leapt over the top of the cage and launched an attack on Dillion Denis, McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach, sparking a riot inside the T-Mobile Arena. Whilst chaos ensued outside the octagon, inside McGregor was still recovering from his loss when he was blindsided and attacked by three members of Khabib’s team, who had jumped into the octagon whilst everyone’s attention was drawn elsewhere. The three men were later detained and subsequently released.
Many feared that the number of police and security personnel wouldn’t be enough to contain the chaos in the area so both fighters were escorted back to their respective locker rooms, most notably with Khabib leaving without his title belt as Dana White refused to present him with it in the octagon.
It was later revealed that McGregor would receive his pay check for the fight, however, the state of Nevada was withholding Khabib’s $2 million pay check pending an investigation.
The incredible scenes led to worldwide mainstream attention for the UFC. Some would say that it supported the view that it’s a barbaric sport, yet there is always the classic argument: ‘any publicity is good publicity’.
Image: Bruce Dettores via Flickr